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Golden Bull

Golden Bull, term translated from the Latin bulla aurea and generally referring to a bull (edict) with a golden seal. Golden bulls were promulgated by medieval Byzantine rulers and by Western European monarchs, for example, by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (Golden Bull of 1213) and by King Andrew II of Hungary (Golden Bull of 1222). However, the term is most frequently used in reference to the Golden Bull of 1356, issued by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. Mindful of the dissension caused by the disputed imperial election of his predecessor, Louis IV, Charles IV devised a series of detailed procedural regulations intended to prevent similar controversies. The measures were discussed and approved at the imperial diets of Nuremberg and Metz (1355–56). The "king of the Romans" was thereafter to be elected only by the majority vote of seven electoral princes (see electors). By omitting any mention of the papacy, the document virtually nullified papal claims to intervene in or to confirm an election. The electoral right was to descend by male primogeniture in the henceforth indivisible lay electorates (except in Bohemia, where the crown was elective). The Golden Bull sanctioned a long-developing trend against a centralized empire and gave the electors a constitutional basis on which to consolidate their holdings into sovereign states. It granted them regalian rights over coinage, mining, and the judiciary; conspiracy against them was to be considered lese-majesty. In codifying the princes' independence of imperial jurisdiction, the Golden Bull of 1356 set the constitutional form of the Holy Roman Empire, which with but a few modifications, survived until the empire's dissolution in 1806.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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